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Pawleys Island: Even on fast track, beach project is still a year away

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The town of Pawleys Island is at least a year away from starting a beach nourishment project that it began developing after erosion caused by storms in October 2015. It hopes to submit applications to state and federal agencies next week, Administrator Ryan Fabbri said. Those applications are key to securing matching funds from the state.

The police department has traditionally been the town’s major annual expense. In the coming year, it will take second place to beach management. The $560,000 for beach projects included in its $1.5 million budget assumes “the most aggressive plan possible,” Fabbri said.

A study by Coastal Science and Engineering found that the town needs to put 900,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach, mostly on the south end, to create a stable beach. The cost is estimated at $11 million to $12 million.

Last winter, the town pushed up sand to create a new dune on the island’s narrow south end and to bolster remaining dunes elsewhere following the 2015 storms. That sand was washed away by Hurricane Matthew this October. The town spent almost $325,000 to push up another new dune along the beachfront. The town expects to get 75 percent of that back from the federal government. But it is still waiting for reimbursement for the sand scraping done following the 2015 storms.

Apart from those emergency measures, an ad hoc beach committee of island property owners is working to develop a long-range plan to pump sand onto the beachfront. The town wants to use a portion of $30 million approved by the state to rebuild beaches damaged in 2015 to match the $5.5 million the town has in its beach management fund. “We’re in an advantageous position because we have that money in the bank,” Fabbri said. It also has engineering data that Coastal Science collected before the 2015 storms.

Town Council adopted the beach committee’s recommendation to apply for permits for beach nourishment even as the committee continues its work on the scope and financing for the project. A beach nourishment plan would require ongoing maintenance to qualify as an “engineered beach” that would be eligible for federal funds to repair damage from future storms. “Maintenance and monitoring have started even though we don’t have an engineered beach yet,” Fabbri said.

Placing 900,000 cubic yards on the beach is expected to net 650,000 cubic yards. According to Coastal Science, that should last 10 years, based on the island’s current erosion rate, which averages less than 2 feet a year. How much maintenance will be required will depend in part on whether the town can afford a full-scale project. The state funds, included in the budget for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, are intended to match half the cost of a project. That could leave Pawleys Island about $1 million short.

The beach committee is scheduled to talk about financing at its next meeting.

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